MUMBAI, India – A statement from the Archdiocese of Bombay says a BBC report on Cardinal Oswald Gracias about clerical sexual abuse did not give the full story on his response to an allegation against a priest of the archdiocese.
In a Feb. 21 report, the BBC said the cardinal failed to “respond quickly or offer support to the victims” when informed about abuse.
Gracias is the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and a part of the four-member organizing committee for this week’s Vatican summit on clerical sexual abuse.
In the case of Father Lawrence Johnson, who was arrested in 2016 for allegations of the sexual abuse of a child, the BBC said the family of a boy abused by the priest met briefly with Gracias in 2015, shortly before the cardinal was scheduled to leave for Rome.
“I told the cardinal about what the priest had done to my child, that my child was in a lot of pain. So he prayed for us and told us he had to go to Rome…my heart was hurt in that moment,” the boy’s mother told the BBC.
“As a mother, I had gone to him with great expectations that he would think about my son, give me justice, but he said he had no time, he only cared about going to Rome,” she said.
The BBC claimed Gracias may have violated India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) by not reporting the allegation to police.
The statement from the archdiocese said that the cardinal had immediately granted the request to meet with the family after hearing of the accusation, met the victim, the parents of the victim and the family friend, who alleged that Johnson had sexually abused the child.
“The cardinal tried to console the parents. The cardinal was to leave for Rome that same night. After the complainants left, the cardinal at once phoned up Father Johnson and informed him of the allegations made against him, and although Father Johnson denied the allegations, the cardinal removed him from office immediately and told him that he was not even allowed to celebrate Mass the next morning. Father Johnson wanted to meet the cardinal personally, but the cardinal told him that he was leaving for Rome in a couple of hours and to meet Bishop John Rodrigues instead,” the statement said.
Rodrigues is an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Bombay.
The archdiocese said that Gracias immediately phoned his auxiliary and asked him to keep in touch with the family and to start an inquiry while Gracias was in Rome. Upon arrival in Rome, the cardinal called Rodrigues about contacting the police.
“At that time, Bishop John told the cardinal that the police had already been informed by the family the previous night. On his return from Rome, the cardinal made an appointment with a counsellor to counsel the victim, but he was told by Bishop John Rodrigues that the family had said that the government authorities were making arrangements for a counsellor,” the archdiocesan statement said.
Rodrigues told Crux that he asked Father Lancy Pinto, the dean of Kurla deanery, “to look after the survivor.”
The archdiocese noted that it had previously established a Corpus Fund to help needy parishioners needing medical assistance, and that Pinto had spoken to a friend of the family informing them the archdiocese was ready to support them as needed.
Pinto also visited the victim’s home and met the father of the victim, and asked him what the archdiocese could to do to help – the victim’s father said “there was no need,” according to the statement.
“Father Lancy also told the father, at that time, that in case the boy needed any medical help or counselling, he could get in touch with him (Father Lancy). The victim’s father thanked Father Lancy and told him that, at present, they did not need any help,” the statement said.
Speaking to Crux, the priest added he made the visit even though he had been cautioned that it could be misconstrued as “an attempt to silence or cover up.”
“I offered financial assistance for their legal expenses, informing them that the Archdiocese of Bombay would provide help, but they declined saying that they were receiving help,” Pinto said.
The archdiocesan statement added that many other attempts were made to reach out to the victim but the family declined any help, and that Gracias “tried on many occasions to reach out to the family and the victim, but they refused to meet the cardinal.”
“The cardinal understands their pain and is ready to give all assistance,” the statement said.